Billy Gibbons’ fashion on stage through the years with Nudie Cohn originals.
Photo: Courtesy of Billy Gibbons/The Bryan Museum
Somewhere in the Houston area is a warehouse full of the spoils of Billy F. Gibbons’ 50-plus years as one of the baddest musicians to ever hail from the Lone Star State. Of course, that’s really something.
“It’s a 30,000 square foot warehouse,” says the bearded sage of ZZ Top himself. “It’s crazy: 22-foot ceilings and we have floor-to-ceiling metal shelving. It’s wild, what we managed to assimilate.
In addition to custom guitars and hot rods — featured in the updated 2020 edition of his “Billy F. Gibbons: Rock + Roll Gearhead” coffee table book — the guitarist and singer also collects compadres. One of them happens to be John “JB” Bryan, son of JP Bryan, Houston’s former energy executive and namesake benefactor of the Bryan Museum in Galveston.
That friendship eventually spawned “The Billy Gibbons Texas History Experience,” a new exhibit at The Bryan that combines select BFG memorabilia with historical material tied to four of ZZ Top’s most groundbreaking songs. After a VIP reception on Friday and the museum’s annual fundraising gala on Saturday – for which Rock and Roll Hall of Famer blues band BFG will provide entertainment – it opens to the public on Sunday and continues through to July 3.
When: March 27-July 3
Or: The Bryan Museum, 1315 21st St., Galveston
Details: $14; 409-632-7685; thebryanmuseum.org
“Even the most hardcore fans are going to see things that will blow their minds,” promises Eric Broussard, curator of Bryan.
Even as a “youngster,” Gibbons recalls, Saturday cowboy matinees instilled in him the idea that Texas somehow stood out. He also found the way the state taught its own history in schools “fascinating.” His fourth-grade class was treated to an educational comic called “Texas History Movies.”
“It was basically learning how Texas came into being—a really, really valuable education, I might say,” Gibbons says.
Classes remained blocked. In the wild and woolly 70s, ZZ Top’s heady Lone Star mystique reached its peak with the 18-month Texas World Tour of 1976 & 77, which found steers, vultures and rattlesnakes sharing the stage. in Texas form with the trio. When the group reached Europe, Gibbons recalled, “we were greeted as sort of international heroes just because we were from Texas.”
The ZZ Top mojo has only grown with each passing year, even after bassist Dusty Hill died last summer. (An extensive tour and new album are planned for later in 2022.) It’s a byproduct of their countless pre-famous gigs, where Gibbons, Hill and drummer Frank Beard honed their relentless one-hit boogie-rock. at a time. The fertile stretch between Houston and Galveston alone gave them plenty of action, Gibbons reflects.
“It was an easy playing field for the group,” he says. “I don’t think there was a community within 10 miles either side of the Gulf Freeway that we didn’t stop and hit one or two in.”
Part of the experience is reserved for so-called “story stations” which explore the context around a handful of beloved ZZ Top songs through photos, interviews, and other material. For example, a poster for the Tony-nominated 1978 musical “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” and items on loan from the Fayette County Museum depict “La Grange,” their mega-hit homage to the small-town brothel. known as the Chicken Ranch. Sitting next to them are the original lyrics to Gibbons’ song, scribbled on stationery from the Stardust Hotel in Vegas.
Naturally, the Balinese Room – Galveston’s beachfront nightclub/game room that was often raided to no avail and much later inspired “Balinese,” from “Fandango!” from 1975. album — gets an entire wall.
Also included will be several Gibbons stage costumes, some created by legendary stage wear designer Nudie Cohn; various in-game rewards and accessories; rare photos of Gibbons with the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and, along with the rest of his pre-ZZ band, the Moving Sidewalks, Jimi Hendrix; and of course guitars, including a 1963 Gibson Melody Maker that Gibbons received as a Christmas present from his parents.
According to Broussard, Gibbons was a capable and enthusiastic collaborator who was totally on board with using his background to help the Bryan expand his demographics: “He was very generous with his input and very encouraging throughout the process.”
Gibbons, and his inimitable syntax, can bring it home.
This exhibit, the bearded guy explains, “just keeps the focus on Texas and what it means to a simple guy like me, and how shrill and strong that Texas spirit is and still remains. It’s a remarkable expression of existence – and I think, in a word, just call it “Texas”.
Chris Gray is a Galveston-based writer.